Belly Up to the Bar
Interesting conversation going on in the Twitterverse today. The topic - alcohol consumption amongst ministry leaders, or thereabouts.
You've heard the old saw that goes "You should never talk about religion in bars?" Turns out the reverse is true: You should never talk about booze in church. I've been involved in some pretty heated discussions both in cyberspace and in meatspace when it comes to religion and alcohol. The only topic that might be more hotly contested is gun legislation.
My life taken as a whole, I am far from a tea-totaler. I have personally consumed quite a bit of alcohol in my lifetime. I spent a lot of my adult life working in the bar and restaurant industry, and became quite a connoisseur of good wines, beers and liquors. I personally have no issues with alcohol consumption, and this is not going to turn into a treatise on abstinence. It took some time myself to come to a perspective on drinking. My wife, bless her, never pushed me on it, rather letting God gently work on me. I struggle with many things, but alcohol is not one of them.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 23-24 : All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. We often hear verse 23 quoted as justification for whatever we want to do; but can we ignore the counsel of verse 24?
I do not think alcohol consumption is a salvation issue in and of itself. It is an issue that each must seek God's face and will about. But I do have a story to tell about "the other's well-being."
When I first started going to Gospel Light, I had a part-time job tending bar in a little neighborhood pub in Bridgeport. I had been working behind a bar since I was 15, and found it a quick and easy way to earn some cash. I had no problems with it, morally or conscious-wise at first. "In fact..." I thought to myself, "I'm doing good! I'm sharing God right here in the bar!" We used to get into some pretty deep discussions, right there in the Shamrock.
Around this time, I started getting a little heat from the church leadership. It seemed that my personality leaned toward leadership, and there were hopes that someday I would be moving into a leadership role in the congregation. But our conservative little church could not have a bartender in leadership. "Why not?" I asked. I wasn't doing anything illegal. Tending bar was a noble and storied profession. Plus, I needed the money.
The "heat" was gentle and loving, by the way. No fire and brimstone. Just gentle encouragement about "Being a light" and witnessing and all that. And it started to get inside me after a while. I started feeling a little tug on my heart. But I was still justifying it to myself.
One night, I was working at the bar when a man came in. I didn't know his name, but I knew him from church. More importantly, I knew that I associated him with our addiction ministry. He sat at the end of the bar and asked for a beer. Then he said "That's okay, right, Brother?"
It was like a knife through my heart. I suddenly became clear to me that God had something greater for me, and that I was not looking out for "the other's well being" by doing what I was doing. I could not share the Gospel while pouring another round.
I knew that that man had a struggle with alcohol. God had shown me that. I did not know what struggles anyone else in the bar had. Was I feeding their addictions, tightening the chains of their own bondages? I had no way of knowing. (By the way - I never saw him again. Not in the bar, not in church.)
I gave my notice that week. I do not judge anyone who chooses to consume alcohol. (Though I will take you to task on your drunkenness!) And I have no objection to a glass of good wine with a nice dinner with family. But for me, the after-work beer is gone, and so is the beer-slinging job. But God has different things for each one of us. In the end, each of us must come before the Master and ask what he wants of us.